Hamas warned that it would start executing hostages unless Israel stopped bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza without advance notice, amid an intense flurry of diplomatic activity to free the group of 100 Israeli and foreign captives which includes seniors and small children.
Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Obaida said they have been acting in accordance with Islamic instructions by keeping the Israeli captives safe and sound, blaming the threat to kill them on Israeli actions.
The warning came as Israel prepared for a ground war in Gaza, Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel, land battles between militants and the IDF continued in the South and violence broke out with Hezbollah and other terror groups along Israel’s northern border.
The war, which the IDF has dubbed Operation Swords of Iron began on Saturday morning after Hamas assaulted the Southern border communities, killing over 900 people starting on Saturday morning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday night: “We are fighting for our home. We are in an existential war that we will win,” he said.
“We always knew who Hamas was, now the whole world knows, Hamas is ISIS – and we will defeat it just as the civilized world defeated ISIS. This bitter enemy wanted war – and he will get war,” he said.
Netanyahu said he has embarked on a series of steps such as restoring calm to the south, stopping infiltrations, striking at terror targets on Israel’s borders, seeking broad international support and reunifying the nation. He also called for a broad national emergency government.
Israel planned to continue to strike at Hamas targets, Netanyahu said, as he thanked global leaders for their support, particularly US President Joe Biden.
“We all want immediate results, but this will take time,” Netanyahu said, warning Hamas that it had been a mistake to attack Israel on Saturday morning.
“Difficult days are ahead,” he said, adding that “we are determined to win this war.”
“Hamas will understand that by attacking us, they have made a mistake of historic proportions. We will exact a price that will be remembered by them and Israel’s other enemies for decades to come.”
The United States has worked to prevent a multi-front war, with Biden scheduled to speak on the matter with key US allies.
Should those efforts fail, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said his country will send the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean, closer to Israel. The force includes the nuclear-powered carrier, a guided missile cruiser and four guided missile destroyers.
Austin also said the US had taken steps to augment its Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.
Netanyahu said, “Our joint enemies .. understand very well the importance of this step.”
Securing the hostages
Securing the release of the hostages is seen as a first step toward restoring calm, after three days of war. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen confirmed that there were more than 100 hostages held in Gaza and the US has said that some of them are American citizens.
Coordinator for the Captives and Missing Brig.-Gen. (Ret.) Gal Hirsch, who was appointed to the task only on Sunday, said, “We are engaged in formulating a full assessment of the situation and are acting with full force to create an effective mechanism, an address for all families that are anxious for the fate of their loved ones.
“We are in the midst of a difficult war; the fighting is continuing and will continue,” Hirsch said.
“The storm is great and the heart is in great pain, very much so. Difficult missions are yet before us, and I am with you, in the campaign to bring the captives and the missing back home to Israel.”
A senior Israeli source rejected reports of hostage negotiations, despite stories of Egyptian, Qatari and Turkish efforts.
Qatari mediators have held urgent calls to try to negotiate freedom for Israeli women and children held in Gaza in exchange for the release of 36 Palestinian women and children from Israel’s prisons, a source briefed on the talks told Reuters.
Qatar’s foreign ministry confirmed to Reuters its involvement in mediation talks with Hamas and Israeli officials, including over a possible prisoner swap.
The ongoing negotiations, which Qatar has been conducting in coordination with the US since Saturday night, are “moving positively” said the source, who has been briefed on them.
“We are in constant contact with all sides at the moment. Our priorities are to end the bloodshed, release the prisoners and make sure the conflict is contained with no regional spillover,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari told Reuters, without elaborating.
A Palestinian official, familiar with mediation efforts with Hamas and Israel in the past, told Reuters that Qatar and Egypt have been in contact with the group but the intensity of the fighting cast shadows over any potential breakthrough.
Egypt has been in close contact with Israel and Hamas to try to prevent further escalation in fighting between them and to ensure the protection of the Israeli hostages, two Egyptian security sources said.
Egypt had urged Israel to exercise restraint and Hamas to hold its captives in good condition to keep open the possibility of de-escalation soon, the Egyptian sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Asked about Washington’s coordination with Qatar on a potential swap, the US State Department referenced a Saturday phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Qatar’s Prime Minister in which the two agreed to “remain closely coordinated.”
A senior Hamas official said the group is open to discussions over a possible truce with Israel, having “achieved its targets.”
Moussa Abu Marzouk told Al Jazeera in a phone interview that Hamas was open to “something of that sort” and “all political dialogs” when asked whether the Islamist group is willing to discuss a possible ceasefire.
Israel continued to receive global support for its war with Hamas, although some diplomats warned against a disproportionate response and frowned on a possible ground campaign.
Comments from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned “the abhorrent attacks by Hamas and others against Israeli towns and villages in the Gaza periphery.
“I recognize the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people. But nothing can justify these acts of terror and the killing, maiming and abduction of civilians.
“I reiterate my call to immediately cease these attacks and release all hostages,” Guterres said.
Still, he said, he was alarmed by the high casualty count from Israeli strike against Hamas in Gaza. There are “alarmed by reports of over 500 Palestinians – including women and children – killed in Gaza and over 3,000 injured.
“While I recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns, I also remind Israel that military operations must be conducted in strict accordance with international humanitarian law,” he said.
He also took issue with Israel’s announcement that it was cutting electricity, fuel and water to Gaza, as well as preventing goods from exiting and entering the Strip, including food.
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza was extremely dire before these hostilities; now it will only deteriorate exponentially,” he said